It’s time to change the voting system

The downside of the ‘proportional representation’ system is that parliament has quickly become the first stop for ‘cadre deployment’.

One thing which unites us as South Africans – across race, gender and religion – is the feeling that politicians are not doing their jobs.

Many of us long to hold them properly accountabl28e: Why do you sleep in parliament; what have you contributed to debates; why do you say such inane things; why do our lives not get any better?

The problem is that, at national government level at least, we really don’t have much influence on how our MPs perform. That’s because, since our first democratic elections in 1994, South Africa has stuck with the “proportional representation” system of voting.

This system means that parties are allocated seats in the House of Assembly based on the votes they win nationally. The parties themselves – without any input from voters – then choose MPs from a “party list”.

The benefit of this system is that it is relatively cheap to run and simple to understand. The downside is that parliament has quickly become the first stop for “cadre deployment” where a seat is an indication of party loyalty, not competence.

Now, however, Cope wants to bring a private members Bill before parliament to change all that and move towards a constituency system, where people will be elected individually by voters from a particular area.

Such a system will, in theory, mean people can see – or even meet – the person representing them and press them to raise issues which are important.

That would be true democracy in action, we think.

However, as much as complaining about politicians is what we have in common as ordinary citizens, our political parties also have – with the exception of Cope, perhaps – the common lack of desire to change the status quo.

It’s time we started asking them why they don’t want a system with such obvious benefits.

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